The Longing of Autumn

Nostalgia and memory ride in on a crisp Autumn breeze. In the slow moments of the day – rocking my baby down for a nap, chopping vegetables – the past filters up from the unconscious and the voices of ancestors make themselves known. In this poster season for transitions, when Nature is undergoing a massive movement toward letting go, we have the opportunity to ride on her fallen leaves and witness the aspects of ourselves and our children that are ready to let go of their branches and float to the ground, where they decompose and transform into another form of life. All around Nature is dying, and in this waking dream of loss, longing and memory arise.

I’m rocking Asher down for a nap and I’m in my childhood house. It’s the colors that stand out in stark relief: the blue of the swimming pool, the maroon shag carpet in my parents’ bedroom, the yellow circles of the wallpaper in my room, the mahogany table that my mother built herself, the gorgeous stained glass windows that my grandpa made. The creative spirit is alive in the house. The house itself is alive. Plants and pets and art are everywhere. The dysfunction in our family surfaced in my later childhood, but for now, as a young child, I’m happy and free. I long to go back. I long to be a child again, just for a day. Or maybe it’s not that as much as a longing for a restoration of my childhood family, my parents back together, a restored house for me and my current family to return to for holidays and gatherings. The longing is a painful ache. I breathe into it, and watch, with deepest gratitude, as my baby drifts into sleep.

I’m cutting open the plastic on a loaf of rye bread. I’m holding a small, sharp knife, the kind my grandfather used for almost everything, and I hear his voice as clearly in my mind as if he’s standing beside me, “Hold the blade away from you, sweetheart.” He’s right. I turn the blade the other way and continue cutting, then watch the flood of memories of my deceased grandparents float before me. The longing to see them again is, again, viscerally painful. I breathe into the pain, the missing, the unavoidable truth of the finality of death. A part of me wants to rage against the permanency, but it’s a fleeting rage. Mostly, I accept, I breathe, I let go.

I’m bent down to the earth, pruning back our flower beds. Big boy is swinging and small boy is climbing on the lawn mower. I’m back in Los Angeles, before we had kids, on a date with my husband (then boyfriend). We’re sitting on the ground having Japanese food at one of our favorite restaurants. I’m meeting him for lunch. We’re happy together. Life is simple, stable, predictable. There’s enough time and energy and money. It’s life before kids, and I feel the wave of grief now that that life is over. I breathe into it, and then it passes, and when I look up I’m flooded with so much gratitude for the abundance and beauty of my current life that tears fill my eyes. Thank you, God. Thank you for what was and for what is, and for the fact that what was created what is.

The grief from the past arrives in spirals, and with each transition, including the season of autumn, we’re offered opportunities to remember, to long, to grieve another layer, and then to let go and make space for the present moments and the creation of new memories. It’s the time of year when we clear out the past, weed out the old memories through re-living them for moments, grieve what is no longer so that we can welcome in, with fresh eyes, the splendor and wonder of what lies before us. Transitions activate loss, whether it’s getting married, having a baby or walking through autumn. Embedded in the loss are opportunities for transformation.

And then I wonder: What is autumn longing for? What stories are written in the veins of the leaves that are shriveling and falling, the plants that are dying, cut back, and tossed away? What is Nature shedding as she enters the quiet seasons that prepare the way for the rebirth of her spring?

And I ask: How can loss be so beautiful? “It’s the best time of year,” I say to Everest as we walk through our garden and marvel at the the bright orange pumpkins lying on the ground. “Why?” he asks. “Because it’s not too hot and not too cold. The mosquitoes are gone. The gold of sunlight washes over everything. And it’s just so beautiful.” There is beauty in loss, if only we can stop resisting it, trusting that not only is there magic on the other side, but there’s magic right here, right now.

6 comments to The Longing of Autumn

  • Sarah

    I’ve always found it interesting and have commented on the fact that trees seem to be the only things that physically become more attractive as the leaves prepare to die. However, your post made me question my logic and reflect on my definition of beauty. As I continue on my path of transformation and allow myself the time to actively wait (When the Heart Waits is an excellent book, by the way)I feel the beauty within me rising up and I am more able to love myself more fully and appreciate the struggle I’ve been going through. There are times when I can almost physically feel the ebb and flow of this transition, as if there are really strings tugging at my heart. But learning to pay attention to the feeling has been enormously helpful. I’ve been feeling more energized lately, perhaps the energy of fall is more compatible with my own energy, but you remind me to drop down and pay attention to what it is now time to let go of.

    • admin

      Thank you for your beautiful and soulful comment, Sarah. Your journey is so important and I have no doubt will lead you to immense amounts of wisdom, compassion, and a deepening of your connection with yourself. And I’m so glad you’re enjoying “When the Heart Waits.” It’s one of my all-time favorites.

  • I love this post. I’ve been feeling so much of this in the past few weeks as the seasons change. I’ve been missing being young, my high school years, living close to my family, life before I was married – and really grieving that all of these things are over. I’ve never felt like this in the fall before – usually it makes me excited and buzzed with the feeling of new opportunities – but this year is different. It’s my first fall as a married woman, maybe that’s why. 🙂 I feel like getting married (maybe because it’s so “final”) has made me really feel all of the stages of my life that are over and that I can’t go back to – and the fall seems to be intensifying those feelings. It’s nice to know it’s normal – and to be reminded to rejoice in the wonderfulness that is the here and now. Thank you for all of your posts!

    • admin

      Very well said, Charisse, and thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Getting married really does solidify all that is over. It’s a grieving process that happens in stages and it’s so important to allow those more difficult feelings to surface and move through.

  • Sheryl, Thank you for so elequantly modeling how to deeply feel each feeling in the moment. I felt like you were in my head and it’s so nice to know that others equally share similar thoughts and what to do with them when they occur. I have been in major transition in my life right now and it’s so encouraging to be able to also be aware that loss too can be beautiful. I look forward to being out of this liminal stage, but until then I will breathe, accept, and let go! Blessing to you. Merry

    • admin

      Thank you, Merry. I know the liminal stage is so hard, so disconcerting, but there’s so much growth waiting on the other side and the only way to get there is to endure the fallow time and surrender to the feeling of being out of control. Blessings to you during your transitions.